Kenneth Maxwell: Taking on KissingerHistorians in the News
Lynne Duke, in the Washington Post (2-27-05):
What a dream. So bizarre. How strange to see himself shrunken, like a pocket-size person. But there he was, Kenneth Maxwell, renowned scholar, rendered a tiny creature trembling at the windswept ramparts of his dream. Gargantuan figures loomed above, gazing down on this mere morsel.
Maxwell awoke. The dream trailed him out of bed.
"I've seen this somewhere before," he thought, vexed for a while until he realized that a picture from his favorite childhood book had scripted his subconscious. He'd become Gulliver, but little as a Lilliputian, facing giants in the phantasmagoric land of Brobdingnag.
The dream seemed to track loosely with Maxwell's reality. He had faced some towering figures of his own. And in a paper to be published that day, Dec. 2, on a Harvard University Web site, he would criticize the credibility of the vaunted Council on Foreign Relations, his former employer and the grande dame of all think tanks.
Maxwell, 64, had been a senior fellow at the council for 15 years. For 11 years, he also reviewed books for Foreign Affairs, the prestigious council journal. And now he would accuse both entities of suppressing debate and silencing his voice because of pressure from Henry Kissinger, the former national security adviser, secretary of state and global power broker.
Maxwell's writings indeed upset Kissinger, say Kissinger's associates. Maxwell had revisited a bitter debate, still red-hot after three decades, about Chile and Kissinger and the depth of U.S. involvement in the fall of one regime and the rise of another.
It is, at bottom, a debate about history and the battle to define it. It is about power -- its uses, its abuses.
"In the foreign-policy world, history is power," says Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the council. "Who is right or wrong in the past either gives or withholds power today."
Chile sounds like old news, except that it still is news. The country's former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, keeps popping up in headlines -- most recently regarding the Riggs Bank money laundering scandal. And in December, a Chilean judge ruled that Pinochet can be tried for kidnapping and murder.
Chile still reverberates along America's ideological divides over human rights and foreign policy, echoing the old realpolitik-vs.-moralism debate heard during the Cold War, when Kissinger and people like him saw in Chile a domino about to fall.
So the battle over Chile goes on, with the latest skirmish revolving around this question: Did the council cave to pressure from Kissinger and his allies and stop Maxwell's writings about Chile? Council officials deny that they responded to any pressure. Kissinger himself won't comment.
Or did Maxwell, sensitive to any perceived threat to his intellectual freedom, overreact? Maxwell firmly believes his perception of Kissinger's influence was based in fact. And Maxwell is not alone in his belief, for Kissinger, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is known for hitting back at critics, for staunchly policing his image.
"Our sense is that Henry does that all the time," says Riordan Roett, a supporter of Maxwell's who has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations for 25 years and is director of Western Hemisphere studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Maxwell awoke that December morning and realized Kissinger was among the giants in his dream.
"What the hell have I done, taking on all of these people?" he thought.
A Lofty Place
The Council on Foreign Relations is a formidable place filled with formidable people -- former Cabinet secretaries and ambassadors, current CEOs and pundits of the media elite -- who've fired their reputations over the years in the foreign policy kiln.
Even its headquarters -- at Park Avenue and 68th Street in Manhattan, in a mansion once owned by a Standard Oil director -- speaks of status, of power.
High officials leaving government go to the council to roost. Those seeking the reverse trek use the council to launch government careers. Heads of state give speeches there. Diplomats mix it up. Journalists gather to hash over issues of the day (this writer spoke on such a panel there 5 1/2 years ago). And task forces meet to craft reports on pressing national and global policy.
That's how Kissinger, now 81, got his start back in the 1950s, on a council study group. Council intellectuals, back then, were at the cutting edge of U.S. foreign policy. Those were the days of George Kennan and the doctrine of "containment," of Paul Nitze, the architect of Cold War policy. Kissinger, then the young upstart from Harvard, arrived at the council and wrote a 1957 book, "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy," that planted the notion of "limited" nuclear war in the policy mind-set.
The original limited-war concept actually was Nitze's, Walter Isaacson wrote in his 1992 book, "Kissinger: A Biography." And when Nitze wrote a negative review of Kissinger's book, Kissinger threatened to sue for libel (but didn't). The two men remained at odds for decades, Isaacson wrote.
Over the years, Kissinger's name became virtually synonymous with the council, even though the only high office he held there was a four-year term on the board ending in 1981.
And the extent of his power at the council can be traced through his personal
and business relations. He and his New York-based international consulting firm,
Kissinger Associates, are closely linked to two of the council's most powerful
comments powered by Disqus
- Why You Should Feel Free to Ignore Polls for a Few Weeks
- Neanderthals in Germany Went Extinct Right After Population Peak
- A Worker Broke a Window at Yale and Shed Light on History
- Which Barack Obama speech is the one for the history books?
- A Brief History Of Spousal Speeches At Political Conventions